BOSTON — Sometimes that whole “experienced teams know how to win” storyline is a bunch of garbage.
But it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t apply to the 2012-13 Miami Heat.
For the 13th time in their last 23 games, the Heat were within five points (either way) of their opponent in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, a situation we call “clutch time.”
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And once again, the Heat emerged victorious, taking a historic step with their 23rd straight victory that puts them all alone in second place among the longest winning streaks in NBA history. Only the 1971-72 Lakers’ streak of 33 straight tops this one. And the Heat can rightfully say that they earned their place in history, coming back from 13 points down in the fourth quarter in one of the most hostile environments in the league.
It was another edition of Celtics-Heat, and it more than lived up to the hype.
Despite the absence of Kevin Garnett, the Celtics gave the champs their biggest fight of the last month and a half, coming just a missed 3-pointer away from stopping the streak on the five-year anniversary of the night they ended the Rockets’ 22-game streak in Houston.
KG or no KG, you knew the Celtics would do everything in their power to end the streak in their building. With their talent deficiency, the Celtics needed a special performance from somewhere, and it was Jeff Green who stepped up. He scored a career-high 43 points by relentlessly attacking the basket, draining a handful of corner threes and producing a very James Harden-esque shot chart.
With 8:27 left in the fourth quarter, Jordan Crawford hit a ridiculously long 3-pointer from the right wing that put the Celtics up 96-83. At that point, you had to think that it was just one of those nights and Miami’s streak was over.
But the Heat would not let it end, now clearly invested in this streak and caring about their place in history. After allowing Boston to score on its first six possessions of the final period, their comeback had to start with defense, and the champs held the Celtics to just three scores (seven points) on their final 16 possessions of the game, highlighted by Shane Battier‘s block on Green’s final drive.
Big baskets were also needed, and the Heat got them from Mario Chalmers and James, who drained the game-winner over Green with 10.5 seconds to go.
The win takes the Heat to 28-6 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, a vast improvement over their 40-31 record in such games over the previous two seasons.
The record is proof of a more experienced, more mature and more cohesive group.
“Sometimes you have to fail,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Two years ago, it seemed like every late-game situation we lost. Even when we were playing well and executing well, we just couldn’t get over the hump. That started to change last year. And we’ve been in so many situations now, the guys feel very confident, very poised. It was a matter of going through the experiences together.”
“No matter what with this team,” Dwyane Wade added, “no matter if we’re up 17 or down 17, we’re confident that we can come back in the ball game. That’s the big difference when you’re out there playing, when you know ‘all we’ve got to do is this, all we’ve got to do is that,’ we can get back in the game. It’s just a team that’s familiar with each other, that’s comfortable playing together, comfortable talking to each other and making each other better throughout the game.”
The better record in close games is also a residue of James’ improved post game, which allows the Heat to attack defenses from the inside instead of from the perimeter. Miami went to the MVP in the post on five straight possessions down the stretch, producing a Wade dunk that got them within two and a Chalmers 3-pointer that gave them their first lead since the middle of the third quarter.
To get No. 23 in Boston in this manner was special. And it’s another experience the Heat can call on as they pursue their second straight championship.
“It means a lot to what we’re trying to build,” James said afterward. “We grew again tonight. That’s big for our team.